Can we please stop giving teens smart phones and mobile devices?

I ran across an article about a dad who dresses up in a hilarious outfit every day for the drive into school. If his kids whip out their cell phones during the ride, he walks into the school to show off his crazy attire.

It was a cute article about what looks like a fun dad. But it returned me to my age old question: why do teens who can’t even drive have cell phones?

Seriously. I don’t understand it.

And yet it seems like every other middle schooler out there is attached to a cell phone or owns their own iPad. I want to grab parents by the shoulders and scream, “this is a mistake!”

While we didn’t give our kids cell phones, we did gift them with iPods at Christmas about five years ago. It was when my husband was in remission and after a rough year of cancer treatment. We decided to up the ante and give them a really “nice” Christmas the next year.

Oh, if I could roll back the reel to that Christmas night. I would snatch those iPods back from under the tree in a heartbeat.

We bought them thinking the kids would use them to listen to music. Instead they played games, searched the internet and opened a Pandora’s Box I’ve never been able to close.

These small black devices changed the whole dynamic of our house. We’ll leave the gory details to your imagination, but suffice to say, they led to sneaky behavior and my pre-teens searching for things I never imagined they could even know about at their age.

My kids don’t have those iPods anymore. If I had my way, they’d all be totally screen-free, but modern schooling is thwarting that dream. My high schoolers have school-issued iPads, and I did get last year’s middle-schooler a Chromebook managed by his school.

Still, you won’t see me giving my kids a smart phone or a personal mobile device. What’s more, I’ll do everything I can to prevent them from purchasing one with their own money so long as they are still in school. I don’t care if they can afford it; I don’t want something so detrimental to their development and our family life in my house.

I fear I am closing in on zealot status for this topic, but kids and unfettered access to tech is a recipe for disaster in my opinion (and experience). Here’s what I say when parents make the following arguments for giving their teen or tween a smart phone.

They need a phone for emergencies.

Really? Where is your pre-teen going nowadays that he or she will not be supervised by an adult?

Ok, so there are times when you might be separated. I know I’ve spent some frustrating minutes trying to find a child at the mall or in a crowd after a school event. I have even thought to myself that it might be handy if they would have had a phone on them so we could find one another.

But you know what? A basic flip phone will let them reach you in the event of an emergency just as well as a high-tech smart phone.

See this phone? It will call you just fine in an emergency…and save you a bundle of cash.

Other kids will tease them if they don’t have a smart phone.

Is this what we teach our kids? That someone might tease you so you need to fold to their wishes?

Bending our better judgement in the face of peer pressure takes us down a dangerous road. And what do our kids learn? That it’s better to say yes to the pushy boyfriend or girlfriend rather than be labeled a prude? Or that it’s better to take the beer rather than risk being ostracized by the crowd? We need to teach our kids to take the high road, not the path of least resistance.

However, I don’t think you need to worry. When my 16-year old started driving, I gave him an ancient Tracfone that he carries everywhere. I asked if anyone gives him a hard time about it, and his response was, “why would they?”

I monitor their usage so it’s ok.

Our high school-issued iPads are tightly locked down, but the kids stay one step ahead. When the school blocked certain search results, students found an obscure search engine that wasn’t filtered. When that got shut down, they discovered the filter didn’t apply to image searches. And so on and so forth.

Kids always find a way. They know how to browse privately. They know how to clear histories. They know which apps you haven’t heard of that will let them do things that will take your breath away.

Even if your child is the next St. Aloysius and isn’t using his phone for nefarious purposes, there is some compelling evidence that being plugged in constantly could be leading to a generation of depressed teens. Why risk that?

They need to learn how to use them eventually.

Yes, and they’ll eventually need to learn to drive, but you’re not handing over your keys to your 13-year old, are you?

The fact is there are plenty of things your child will do in life – become a parent, work a full-time job, apply for a mortgage – that are not appropriate for them to do at this point in their life. Their brains are still developing, their impulse control is lacking and we expect them to self-regulate their use of a device that begs for our attention 24/7?

Quite frankly, I am hitting the point where I’m not sure smart phones are good for adults either. There are an increasing number of people sounding the alarm about how smart phones affect our brains, our relationships and our quality of life.

As an adult, it’s hard to not let my phone take over my life. I feel downright twitchy if I haven’t checked it in an hour, and I am 100 percent certain I am not the only person who feels this way. While I am still struggling with how best to disentangle myself from my device, I know this for sure: I want something better for my kids.

Rather than let our kids fall down the rabbit hole behind us, let’s help them have an adolescence that doesn’t revolve around a rectangle with a screen. Let’s say no to smart phones.


Don’t take my word for it. Here’s more on the subject if you need further convincing:

What marketers know about teens and their smart phones

Teen suicides and smart phones

Smart phones may be destroying a generation

A rebuttal to the above article that really isn’t all that reassuring either

Seeing your smart phone makes you dumb

Our smart phones are made to mess up our minds

Physical dangers of smart phones



    1. Well said. There’s also a huge difference between teaching kids to be technologically literate and giving them smart phone. Smart phones don’t teach kids to type on a keyboard, create a document, or anything else they might need to do as an adult. I should probably shut my mouth though because we bought our 9-year-old a “family” ipad mini so she could FaceTime with her dad when we travels. She uses it for more than that though (sigh)!

      1. It really is hard, isn’t it? I wish we could find a way to use the useful stuff like FaceTime and not get sucked into all the not-so-useful stuff. It’s a struggle for sure!

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